Perspective: What marketing and product development need to know about sales

7 minute read


One of the most valuable quotes from the American computer scientist Alan Kay is: Perspective is worth 80 IQ points. At least from my perspective it’s one of the most valuable. 🙂

I want to use this post to inform marketing and product development about the sales person’s perspective, and why sometimes sales is hard. But first I want to look at the value of perspective in general and consider perhaps what we in sales could do better.
There are so many reasons why perspective is important in everyday life – but particularly in sales. Perspective is at the heart of communication. You need to go beyond just listening to ‘active’ listening, to really comprehend the frame of reference informing the opinion of whomoever you are trying to communicate with. It’s not just important, it’s essential.

In sales, everything should start and end with the customer. Unless you understand your customer’s perspective, you can’t possibly appreciate what’s important to her. And then you won’t know how to progress the sale. But your ability to serve your customer is often impacted by your own company’s velocity and your interaction with your colleagues, and it’s here that sometimes perspective breaks down.

Think about the last time you were frustrated with a customer ‘who just doesn’t get it’. Remember the last time you complained to your sales manager about your marketing department, ‘I just don’t understand why we never seem to get ….’ [Insert ‘leads’, ‘competitive analysis’, ‘better product positioning’, ‘easy to use sales proposal templates’ or your favorite complaint here]. Have you ever wondered what on earth the product development team spend all their time at, when it seems the competitor has a feature in their product ‘that seems pretty simple to me for us to add’? Surely it can’t be that hard!

When this lack of understanding happens tremendous friction occurs – and overall sales and organizational velocity suffers. Usually when you start a sentence with ‘I just don’t understand why …’, it’s usually just that – you don’t understand. And, more often than not, it’s worth taking the time to try to get the picture as others have painted it. Arrogance is usually bred from ignorance, and that’s never pretty or productive.

In was put in mind of this again recently when writing a separate post on this blog, Early Failure is Better than Late Failure . In that post I linked to a post from marketing guru Seth Godin. Seth has a wonderful ability to capture in simple words things we all think about but don’t necessarily articulate well. As I browsed his blog I came across another sublime piece of simplicity called Nine things marketers ought to know about salespeople (and two bonuses) – but more about that later.

In 2004, I co-wrote a book called Select Selling – Strategies to Win Customers by Defining the Ultimate Target Profile and Discovering what they Really Want. The opening two paragraphs of that book went like this:

There are few distinct viewpoints in business that are as polarized as those of marketing and sales professionals. Marketing is glamorous, sales less so. Sales are measurable, marketing less so. The uneasy relationship between sales and marketing is widespread and infects almost all types of businesses, particularly technology companies that provide high value solutions to large corporations. Marketing folks decry the poor sales conversion rate delivered by the sales team, who in turn abhor what they would characterize as the risible value delivered by expensive marketing campaigns.
During the production of this book, we interviewed many sales and marketing professionals. The polarity of perspective was striking. “Sales people are just quick-talking, quota-driven snake oil dealers” was the cant of the marketing quarter, while the sales constituency responded, “Sales draw the picture and marketing color it in!”

The truth of course is that mutual respect and understanding, and a shared perspective, between the sales function and their inter-dependent colleagues in marketing and product development is essential if you want to be sure you have the right products to sell, the right marketing messages to communicate with your customer, and ability to call on specialist marketing or product expertise or support when you need it. When that happens, uncommon velocity occurs, and more deals are won faster – and that’s a good thing.
But back to Seth Godin’s post. As mentioned about, it’s sublime in its simplicity. Here’s the full text.

Nine things marketers ought to know about salespeople (and two bonuses)

  1. Selling is hard. Harder than you may ever realize. So, if I seem stressed, cut me some slack.
  2. Selling is personal. When I make a promise, I have to keep it. If you force me to break that promise (by changing processes, features or a rollout schedule) I will never forgive you.
  3. Selling is interpersonal. I am not moving bits, I’m trying to change people’s minds, one person at a time. So, no, I can’t tell you when the sale will close. No one knows, especially the prospect.
  4. I love selling. I particularly love selling great stuff, well marketed. Don’t let me down. Don’t ask me to sell lousy stuff.
  5. I’m extremely focused on the reward half of the equation. Salespeople love to keep score, and that’s how I keep score. So don’t change the rules in the middle, please.
  6. I have no earthly idea what really works. I don’t know if it’s lunch or that powerpoint or the Christmas card I sent last year. But you know what? You have no clue what works either. I’ll keep experimenting if you will.
  7. There is no comparison, NONE, between an inbound call (one that you created with marketing) and a cold call (one that you instructed me to create with a phone book.) Your job is to make it so I never need to make a cold call.
  8. Usually, customers lie when they turn me down. They make up reasons. But every once in a while, I actually learn something in the field. Ask!
  9. I know you’d like to get rid of me and just take orders on the web. But that’s always going to be the low-hanging fruit. The game-changing sales, at least for now, come from real people interacting with real people.
  10. (a bonus, switching points of view for a moment): I know that selling is hard and unpredictable. But if you’re going to be in sales, you’ve got to be prepared to measure and predict and plan. You need to give me sales reports and call lists and summaries. It does neither of us any good to keep your day a secret. If you don’t plan and organize, I can’t do my job of marketing.
  11. (and bonus number two): The two worst pieces of feedback you can give me (because neither is really actionable or especially effective): a. lower the price and b. make our product just like our competitors.

Other than my fundamental disagreement with part of no. 3 (So, no I can’t tell you when the sales will close. No one knows, especially the prospect), it might be useful to share 1-9 with your marketing and product development folks, and spend a little time yourself thinking about no. 10 and no. 11.

Remember Alan Kay’s advice. Perspective is worth 80 IQ points. You can get smarter by just thinking about it.



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